Again, my apologies for the delay with this review.
This season, Supernatural has a lot of balls in the air, more so than usual. And although the last few episodes of 2010 suggested that the series wasn’t going to have much trouble burning through plot developments at a solid rate — instead of hanging on to them for too long like S4 and S5 are guilty of — I was still a bit worried coming into “Like A Virgin.” I knew that Sam would wake up, soul intact and wall up, but I wasn’t sure how long Dean would try to keep the truth from him or how long it would take Sam to figure out something was sort of off. I presumed that it would take at least two or three episodes of mysterious looks and Dean stuttering before things might come to light and that worried me just a little because this season has done a nice job of staying away from the heavy melodrama between the brothers that dragged down season five.
Fortunately, Sera Gamble and her team must have had the same concerns as I, because “Like A Virgin” wastes no time diving into Dean’s secrets, Sam’s knowledge and all sorts of other great mythology stuff, leading to one of the best episodes of the season by far.
I loved RoboSam. It was a great wrinkle for the series to throw out there, particularly after all the seasons of talk about losing souls it was cool to see one of the brothers experiencing that phenomenon. But the writers were smart enough to realize that RoboSam had a sell by date and after he tried to literally kill Bobby, I’m not sure there’s really anywhere else to go without making him a full-blown villain for the rest of the season. And while that might have been cool in theory, it would have thrown off the series’ dynamics in an odd way.
So EmoSam had to return and “Like A Virgin” doesn’t spend much time keeping that reveal a secret. But of course, Dean wasn’t really interested in telling Sam what happened to him, so he just lies. The working story is that Sam has been in hell this whole time and Dean made a sweet, clean slate of a deal with Death to pull him out. Throw in a a great reunion moment for the brothers, Sam eating a crap-load of food, a few shifty looks from a still-angry Bobby and Dean and we’re off to the races with a new case. But even though Sam has the wall in his mind to keep all the nasty stuff out, there are reverberations. It vaguely remembers hunting the skinwalker from a handful of episodes ago and can generally notice that Dean is being mysterious and avoiding when it comes to certain details of Sam’s return.
And this is what I thought we’d get for the next handful of episodes. Dean isn’t a good liar, but he’s good enough to keep most of the truth away from Sam when he needs to. Unfortunately for him, Sam is a really, really smart dude and I’m glad that this episode remembered that fairly quickly. The middle 20 minutes of this episode features something of a greatest hits for the brothers: riding in the car jamming some music, doing a stupid amount of research, dressing up as FBI agents and a whole lot of Sam being sympathetic and bothered by the case’s circumstances while Dean smiles knowingly. Both Ackles and Padalecki played those scenes with the right mix of familiarity and newness and both had a fun hop in their step. Those are all great moments for us and for Dean, but they’re a bit cheap because we all know that there’s something else going on here and he can’t keep this fantasy world going for too long with his intelligent-as-hell brother poking around for answers.
Obviously, I totally understand Dean’s motivations for keeping Sam in the dark, of which he fully verbalizes after Sam uses Castiel’s ignorance to get all the information about his T-1000 days in a really easy fashion: What Sam doesn’t know could LITERALLY kill him. If he continues to scratch at that wall, it could crumble and who really knows what will happen to Sam at that point. But now Sam knows and because he’s fully back in-tune with his emotions, he’s ready to clean up all his messes — I’m sure that won’t be so easy. I’m just a bit concerned about the endgame with Sam and the wall for really only one reason. I’m not sure where you go with Sam if he breaks the wall, is he just going to go crazy? Is that really worth it? I understand the desire to keep things interesting with him because that’s basically the primary backbone of the whole series, but it would be nice to have Sam just be Sam for a little bit without all these possible evils hanging over him.
Also, doesn’t it seem like this Sam is particularly Sam-like, in that he’s almost like the S1 version of him? He seemed really, really bothered by events in the case and in general, seems to be emo-y. Are we to assume that with Lucifer in his cage that all the demon blood and ability stuff is actually over? Is Sam just Sam now? Despite by hesitance towards the endgame, I think there are a lot of interesting avenues to take the younger Winchester and that’s a good problem to have obviously.
But “Like A Virgin” wasn’t just all about pulling back the curtain on Sam’s reality, it also featured a pretty darn good case and final reveal related to it. This season has been dancing around the Purgatory thread for a while now and it looks like even without Crowley, that’s where this season is headed after this episode. I know before the season Gamble talked a lot about diving into the mythology of monsters and although certain episodes have hit that mark, we still haven’t gotten to something really weird until “Virgin,” which is all about…dragons! I love it when the brothers and Bobby come across something they’ve never even seen before and they act as if there is no way a dragon could exist in a world where Lucifer just rose from hell not 18 months ago, it’s hilarious.
In any event, while I thought some of the bits with the dragons and this new side of the world felt a bit out of step with the series’ M.O. — particularly Dean trying to pull out the sword from the boulder — I think that is obviously the point. This season has been a wild mess of storylines and threads and it seems purposefully so and “Like A Virgin” sort of opens the door to a whole different batch of stories that can be told under the series’ usual thematic concerns.
The dragons eventually sacrifice a virgin to open up the door to Purgatory and bring The Mother to the surface. It looks the second half of the season now has its big bad, which is fine, but I hope that she’s handled different from Lucifer or even Lilith. There seemed to be this obvious determinism to those stories that the series couldn’t escape and although it worked for those seasons, it doesn’t really it into the loose and messy vibe that S6 has been putting off through the first dozen efforts. I’m hoping the Purgatory thread dives directly into what is happening with Sam, but I would prefer that neither brother become the agent for The Mother’s dirty work or something like that. We’ve been there already.
But like all season, I really have no idea what is going to happen on Supernatural and I love it that way.